Frontline leaders are vital to the success of any organisation. They are the people who get their hands dirty, working with frontline staff and interacting with customers. Typically they make up 50% of your leaders, directly supervising up to 80% of your workforce.
However, research by Harvard Business Review found that nearly 60% of companies are facing leadership talent shortages that are impeding performance, and another 31% expect a lack of leadership talent to negatively impact their performance in the coming years. A Corporate Executive Board study found that, on average, frontline leaders receive up to 3 times less development than senior leaders.
I believe a new approach is required to improve the success rate for budding frontline leaders. I think we need to turn to another field for inspiration, a field that has long ago learnt to successfully deal with the issue of nurturing the next generation – gardening.
Plants are at their most fragile when they are small and just starting to grow. That’s why gardeners use greenhouses to protect them until they can survive on their own. Like seedlings, budding leaders are easily damaged and require special care to help them grow into strong, confident, and productive leaders.
I believe that if more organisations treat their budding leaders the same way gardeners treat seedlings, they would find the process less stressful and produce a better outcome. I want to encourage you to give your frontline leaders the best possible start to their careers.
So what does the “greenhousing strategy” involve? There are 4 phases in what I call the Practical Leadership Development Model.
Before a gardener puts anything in the ground, they make a plan so they can best use their limited resources. Before you start developing your frontline leaders, you need to assess your current situation to determine where you are and where you want to go. Conduct a stocktake of your current strategy and tactics to assess what is working and what needs to change so you can make informed decisions that will get results.
Next the gardener prepares the soil and the plants so that when they are combined the chances of a successful outcome are increased. For your organisation you need to get everyone involved in the process prepared to play their part. This means getting your existing leaders prepared for the next crop of leaders, as well as preparing new leaders to take on their first position prior to being appointed.
It is now time to create the garden. This involves not only putting plants in the ground, but also ensuring they receive attention early on as they settle in. This is where you begin the initial development of your new leaders. What you need is a practical, supported process that can be delivered over an extended time frame using a range of methods, giving your frontline leaders the foundation skills they need to perform their roles efficiently and effectively.
Once the garden has been planted there is still work to do. Maintenance is an important and ongoing task. Developing leaders is not a one-off event and your initial program must be followed up by a range of regular learning sessions. In this final phase, your frontline leaders should have access to coaches as well as other short sessions focused on practical skills, and longer workshops on subjects that are relevant to their specific roles.
Karen Schmidt from Let’s Grow! is the frontline leadership expert who helps organisations grow their frontline leaders so they perform better, which improves team productivity, giving senior leaders peace of mind. To learn about her Practical Leadership model visit Let’s Grow. To book her to speak at your next event visit www.karenschmidt.com.au.